Report summary: The Place of Kindness

Title: The Place of Kindness: Combating loneliness and building stronger communities

Author: Zoe Ferguson, Carnegie Associate

Published by: Carnegie UK Trust and Joseph Rowntree Foundation

Date: July 2017

 

Last winter we read and summarised Zoe Ferguson’s timely report on the impact of kindness on our wellbeing. There is considerable evidence that shows that “positive relationships and kindness are at the heart of our wellbeing”. This new report takes things further and looks at the enablers and barriers for kindness in our communities. The research project sought to answer the question: What could we do to encourage kinder communities? And working with several communities across Scotland, they aimed to test ideas around how important place and opportunity are for connecting.

Zoe Ferguson’s report is refreshingly human, easy to read, hopeful and practical. She signs off her “Note on approach” by acknowledging the challenges she faced leaving aside a formal methodology which many will be able to relate to, and she explains that she is writing “from the heart”. And indeed she is.

 

The main messages

The report demonstrates that just noticing, discussing and questioning what kind of community we want to live in can made a difference to our ability to connect and live in a kinder society. The key to encouraging kinder communities may be in focusing on what the current barriers are to building connections and working to remove these. One of the major barriers identified is a “real lack of places to gather” (pg. 22). Similarly, professionalism, formalising processes and regulation of interactions can get in the way (pg. 28).

Zoe also writes that though kindness and positive relationships do impact our wellbeing, they are “not enough in themselves to create wellbeing”. Larger, structural issues play a major role too. “Poverty and disadvantage can make it harder to form and maintain relationships. Many people need a “greater sufficiency from the state to improve incomes, housing and health” (pg. 22).

 

The highlights

  • There are some great visuals that really stand out in the report. Check out the Executive Summary laid out in a diagram on page 3.
  • And we particularly like the diagram on page 24, which outlines what gets in the way of kindness.
  • The report addresses the balance between individual action and the role of government in encouraging kinder communities: “The biggest contribution that government may be able to make is to give us back permission to act in kindness by balancing messages on risk with messages about the value that they place on a caring society” (pg. 28).
  • Zoe includes her own personal experience and dilemma about considering risk around acts of kindness which reminds the reader that these are things we all struggle with and experience differently.

 

Summary

This report provides great insight for anyone involved in community engagement and development. It highlights how story, culture, place and opportunities can impact our capability for acts of kindness. It includes first hand examples of these issues and reflects on an array of barriers and enablers.

However, the report goes beyond discussion and reflection. It finishes with three tangible calls to action for every one of us, including the government and organisations, to encourage kindness in our communities.

These are:

  • Come together however you can and discuss how we can build more kindness into our lives.
  • Organisations that provide services need to think about how they can “remove cultural and procedural barriers and encourage employees to act in kindness”.
  • Government at all levels should explore the unintended impact of risk and performance management on society’s ability to be kind.

So now, we need to take up the call.

 

Photo by Nina Strehl

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